Continuity. It’s as minor an everyday problem as watching a Cheers rerun one night where Woody Boyd is slinging drinks and the next night where his deceased predecessor Coach is alive, not giving a log about anybody named “Woody.” Or, in James Bond’s latest The World is Not Enough, when the kidnapped-as-a-child seductress Electra reveals the earlobe that was cut off by her captors, that has a nice, sparkly earring on it in the next shot! Continuity is at best a minor annoyance in most forms of entertainment.
In comic books, however, it can become the bane of a title’s existence. Despite their youthful appearances, some of our iconic heroes are well into their 40th years (or more, like that sexagenarian Superman, swallowing great medications in a single bound). So, with every rotating creative team on a book comes a massive amount of history and precedents that, by many, can’t be ignored. Unfortunately, they also tend to be forgotten. And, due to the oversight in certain details (from minor ones such as “Hey, wasn’t Peter Parker’s Uncle a righty? This panel shows him writing with his left?!” to major “Isn’t he dead?” goof-ups), errors in continuity occur.
Some critics argue that continuity can take a flying leap. Comics are for telling fantastic stories, they say, and if a new creator’s vision doesn’t exactly jive with panel 7 on page 3 of issue 93 of The Flash, then so be it. Dammit, Jim, they’re writers, not historians. Others contend breaking continuity undermines the integrity for the readers, of the stories, and the intelligence of both. Some of the most compelling writing relies on prior events to fuel them. For example, where’s the drama in our hero’s latest show-down with her arch-nemesis if all the great fights that came before are null and void? And, let’s not forget, many fans buy a title due to years of loyalty. For the new, creative upstarts to disregard elements that the readers have savored is seen by some as an act of heresy. After all, if the writers and editors don’t have the same respect for the book as the readers, how much longer are the readers likely to be around? So, regardless of critical opinion, glitches in continuity can actually be bad for business. Both Marvel and DC are at least 35 years old, and even though their characters show relatively no signs of aging, each company has had to revamp and rebuild its universe at least once to melt the snowball-effect of continuity problems. Crisis on Infinite Earths, Onslaught and Heroes Reborn, Zero Hour...
...and, now, Avengers Forever. With this 12-issue limited series, Kurt Busiek attempts to disentangle the many confusing appearances and motivations of essential Avengers villain, Immortus. Or Kang. Or Pharoah Rama-Tut. Or the Scarlet Centurion. The time-traveler has shown up so many times, in so many times, and under so many names that Marvel had to call in Avengers guru Busiek to craft an independent series just to set things straight. The result was so thorough, so meticulously aware of Avengers’ history, that it required every fourth issue to include a page of actual footnotes. Take that either as impressive, a comic series with its own bibliography, or as daunting as one of those old textbooks you often ditched for the escape of comic books.
Created in the early ‘60s, the Avengers was Marvel Comics first real attempt to pull together a few of its most successful characters into a super-team (DC already had its share of super-friends). The Fantastic Four and The X-Men were already in publication, but the Avengers used preexisting Marvel characters to fill its roster: The Incredible Hulk, the Invincible Iron Man, the Wasp, Ant-Man, and the Mighty Thor. Over the years, there have been many roster changes villains-turned-heroes, aliens-turned-allies, etc, but the notion of the Avengers has always remained the same. With arguably half of all Marvel Super-Heroes having at one time served on the team in the fight against evil, “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” have wracked up quite a rogues gallery. And, most lethal and puzzling among them is the man known as Kang…then as Immortus…then as Rama-Tut…then as the Artist Formerly Known as Rama-Tut…
Avengers Forever centers around a ragtag band of past, present, and future Avengers brought together by the enigmatic Libra for the even more mysterious Destiny War. Really, it’s all just an excuse to explore the Avengers’ long-time relationship with the villainous Immortus, supposed Master of Time. The Marvel Universe has introduced so many additional “time-masters,” that Immortus’ claim has always been a little shaky. Likewise, his background (an evolution from Kang and Rama-Tut) and his benefactors (the ominous Time Keepers) have always been a little shady. So, catalyzed into action by a death threat against their ally, Rick Jones, these motley Avengers set out to put a halt to whatever behind-the-scenes goings-on are going on behind the scenes between Immortus and his past selves.
Confused? Good. Because, even though Mr. Busiek’s knowledge of Avengers’ history is monumental, his story sure isn’t. Certainly, it’s impressive to pull from so many sources across Marvel history in an attempt to reconcile continuity concerns for the reader. But, if you lose the reader in the process and, incidentally, inject staged fight scenes to meet action-quota protocols you’re overlooking the fundamentals of comic books. Be they literary or be they fluff, comics are still tools of recreation. They must work with the readers and never against them. To correct continuity errors, there are better options than Byzantine 12-issue series. Creators could do as the character of Libra does on page 13 of issue 2 where the team leader Wasp asks him about his time spent under the name Moonraker: “Moonraker?” he says, “I’m sorry, Wasp…You must be mistaken.” An easy answer: He never was Moonraker. A two-line word balloon clears it all up. All evidence otherwise is just another story to be told.
Even landmarks that exist outside continuity like The Dark Knight Returns make sure never to lose the reader. They merely provide additional layers for the interested one to go back and delve deeper into. And, Avengers Forever simply requires its audience to dig far too deep all in the name of preserving continuity. Mr. Busiek’s talents should be reserved for tales without a company agenda, such as his work on Thunderbolts and Astro City. And let’s just hope, in writing his next series, he doesn’t accidentally revive a hero that someone else will have to spend 12-issues to qualify, and that we have to pay $36 to read.